Crime

In stalking trial, suspected killer Robert Gross is seen on video at massage parlor

Robert Gross is at the center of decades of stalkings and murders

Over the past four decades Robert Gross has been a prime suspect in several stalking and murder cases. Some of the people close to those cases go as far as to call him a serial killer. Why has he not been convicted for murder?
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Over the past four decades Robert Gross has been a prime suspect in several stalking and murder cases. Some of the people close to those cases go as far as to call him a serial killer. Why has he not been convicted for murder?

To begin the trial of Robert Gross, federal prosecutors on Monday laid out the specific allegations that he repeatedly stalked women who worked at massage parlors in Johnson County and Lawrence in 2017.

They showed a 30-minute surveillance video they said showed Gross walking naked around a Lawrence massage parlor while demanding a refund for a 15-minute massage he received the night before, and for which he paid $60.

“I paid money and I didn’t get service,” Gross said in the surveillance video played before jurors on Monday. “I came here to get a massage and I didn’t get a massage.”

It was only the beginning of a trial expected to last four days at the U.S. District Court in downtown Kansas City, where Gross is accused of interstate stalking and firearms offenses. The 67-year-old has also long been a suspect in the killings of several women, including two who worked in the massage business, but he has never been charged in a homicide.

In the video played in court Monday, Gross repeatedly threatened the worker at the Lawrence massage parlor. He was heard calling the woman “stupid” and a “bitch.”

The frightened worker called the shop’s owner, pleading with her to talk to Gross, calm him and get him to leave.

Gross continued berating the worker: “Your boss owes me money — $100, $200.”

Gross threatened the worker, accusing her of being pregnant and living at the massage parlor. Gross said he would call police and immigration authorities on the worker to have her deported to China.

At one point, the worker left the massage parlor and summoned help from a man who was walking outside nearby.

Gross got dressed and told the worker: “I’m going but you owe me some money. Remember that.”

During cross examination, the owner of the massage parlor testified that Gross had visited her shops at least ten times. He often visited the massage parlors without getting a massage, occasionally handing out flowers to workers.

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An artist’s rendering shows a witness, left, testifying at the trial of Robert J. Gross in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City. A translator is seated beside her. The Star generally does not name victims of sex crimes without their permission. Gross is charged with interstate stalking and firearms offenses. Baldemar Rivas - Special to The Kansas City Star

Workers kept a list of disgruntled customers who frequently demanded more than a massage during their visits. Gross’s name never appeared on that list and workers never called police, said defense attorney John P. O’Connor.

Gross was the subject of a six-part series by The Kansas City Star last year examining his possible role in a series of unsolved slayings, arsons, assaults and sexually-motivated burglaries going back to the 1960s. None of the charges in this week’s trial relate to the killings.

Since his December 2017 arrest while allegedly buying two shotguns in a Liberty, Missouri, parking lot in violation of federal law, Gross has been held without bond in a detention center in Leavenworth.

He is charged with four counts of stalking, three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and three counts of receiving a firearm while under indictment.

Federal prosecutors planned to call about 30 witnesses and present more than 200 pieces of evidence in the trial. One witness on Monday said she spoke English but needed a translator because Mandarin was her primary language.

Many of the workers at the massage parlors where the stalking crimes are alleged to have occurred are from China.

Federal prosecutors have accused Gross of stalking multiple women between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, 2017. During that period, Gross fell under police suspicion in a rash of property crimes and stalking reports by employees at massage parlors in Olathe and in Lawrence.

The women told police their cars were keyed, screws drilled into their tires and their windows smashed out. The vandalism recalled earlier episodes that preceded assaults or killings of women Gross was connected to in the 1970s and 1980s, according to police reports and the accounts of women who survived attacks.

On Monday, police detectives testified there was no surveillance video, no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses that identified Gross as the person who vandalized the cars. The massage parlor owner accused Gross of the vandalism because he had visited one of her shops the previous day and complained of not receiving service.

Gross is also facing prosecution in Douglas County for the 2017 sexual assault of the Lawrence massage parlor worker seen in the video in court Monday.

As a result of that investigation, law enforcement officials in late 2017 put Gross under surveillance by the Kansas City Career Criminal Task Force, a group made up of local and federal law enforcement officers.

According to court records, the surveillance team observed Gross over several weeks amassing a collection of guns, handcuffs and other security paraphernalia.

Gross was later arrested while allegedly buying two shotguns in Liberty in a sale he arranged online, according to prosecutors.

As a convicted felon, it would have been against the law for Gross to possess or purchase firearms.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.


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